Tremors: A Cold Day In Hell
The franchise is the Holy Grail for most movie studios. A series of films connected by character arcs and continually progressing storylines. The fan familiarly typically translates into an example of brand name loyalty that results in a level of guaranteed box office receipts that is extremely attractive to the studio executives whose primary concern is the fiscal viability of the product. Since horror movies can be produced reasonably with a modest budget, they are most frequently associated with the phenomena of diminishing returns. Although the quality and subsequently profitability diminished with each successive offering, the franchise eventually fades away. A genre that can provide movies that are entertaining primarily through almost laughable special effects, the fan expectation shifts from a need to frighten to merely something that can be gross yet entertaining. These observations often relate to the creature feature. This is a hybrid genre juxtaposing science fiction, horror, and adventure optimally in balanced amounts. The case under scrutiny in this consideration is ‘Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell.’ It is the sixth film in a franchise that much like the featured creature, pops up with little notice. The initial film had a noteworthy cast starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. From the television side, Michael Gross was an excellent choice for the cast. The year before the release of the original ‘Tremors’ in 1990, Mr. Gross had completed a highly successful seven-year run of popular, family-oriented sit-com, ‘Family Ties.’ That series also helped to initially launch the career of the beloved actor, Michel J. Fox. The only member of that original line-up to persist through all the films and the short-lived foray into weekly television was Mr. Gross making him the de facto face of the franchise. At the least the studios must demonstrate some effort to instill something new or a change of some familiar aspect of the creature. Over the original trilogy the giant subterranean worms that provided the generic name for the species, Graboids. Next a smaller, bipedal variety emerged, Shriekers, finally leading up to a fast, maneuverable aerial variant called The Ass-Blaster, in referring to the large plume of fire out of its tail end. In all instances the creatures were limited to arid climates ranging deep in the desert. The change used here was to move the action considerably north to Canada's Nunavut Territory.
One positive element regarding franchises, especially later in the lineage, not much expositional bandwidth is required. The story can jump directly into a small sample of the inhuman carnage ahead. The opening credits are barely over when a team of a young researcher in Canada’s frozen north was busy collecting core samples from beneath the glaciers. Messy death ensues. Most fans remaining at this point typically are there for the attacks, bloodshed, and explosions so it is a good move on the part of the screenwriters to tease a taste so soon. Quickly shifting back to the warmer climate, Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) and his son Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy), are unexpectedly approached by someone in an official-looking vehicle. Their trepidation that the IRS has caught up with Bert is quelled when it turns out to be an invitation to hunt Graboids. Bert and Travis had a business selling survival gear, but its popularity waned after the sightings of the Graboids evaporated the pair are taken to Canada where they are asked to hunt their foreboding nemesis. They have never been sighted in the ice, but this year was unusually warm due to climate change. It is a tradition in creature features to embed some of the current fears of the population into the narrative. The women in charge of the menace were Dr. Rita Sims (Tanya van Graan) and a young Graboid hunter Valerie McKee (Jamie-Lee Money). Valerie claims expertise in the creatures including knowing attack and defense strategies. Burt questions her claims but her bona vides are validated by more than casual knowledge, a large weapon previously owned by an old friend and a pair of boots crafted from Graboid hide. Valerie is the daughter of the original Graboid fighter, Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter). As expected, the names are referenced but not seen.
The second tier of cast members affords the opportunity for the story to develop, albeit, superficially, character arcs that add some modicum of texture fleshing out the tale. The requisite dramatic tension and introduce a potential curious sidetrack, the story follows the standard genre playbook. A significant part of this is to create two groups, the scientific research team that contacted Burt, and a shady group encamped nearby. They belong to the secretive Government research facility. DARPA, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Shrouded in mystery and believed to work on dangerous technology with vast military potential, this organization is a time-tested archetypical evil scientist’s organization. Their man on the scene is Mr. Cutts (Paul du Toit). For the research team, aka, the good guys, Dr. Sims is aided by Hart Hansen (Kishan Naidoo), a geomorphologist, Aklark (Keeno Lee Hector), indigenous guide and assistant and Swackhamer (Rob van Vuuren), the facility manager and innovative mechanic. When an impossible device or gizmo is required, he can MacGyver something on the spot. Thrown in mostly as a comic foil is Dr. Charles Ferezze (Francesco Nassimbeni), a cowardly researcher constantly placing other in mortal peril with is many attempts to flee. Its juxtaposition greatly enhances overt acts of bravery with such blatant spineless behavior.
The most important objective facing the director, Don Michael Paul, and screenwriter John Whelpley, was the eternal dilemma of continuing stories. It is necessary to retain the elements that permitted the original film to attract sufficient positive attention to warrant the executives committing the necessary resources to extend the narrative while simultaneously infusing changes to give the current installment fresh with novel twists. Adding to the degree of difficulty the filmmakers must working within the established framework. It is the failure to achieve these objectives that have created the negative stereotype generally associated with prolonged movie franchises. The ‘Tremors,’ flicks, and to a lesser extent, the television series managed to accomplish a very crucial goal for the fans consistently, they remain fun. A movie needn’t always strive for greatness. Few will make a smash during the award season, and only a handful will attain the heights of critical acclaim. I have discovered that whenever I receive another movie about the Graboid menace, there is a bottle of soda, a tub of popcorn and an enjoyable afternoon in my immediate future.